STAUNTON — When Lourdes Benitez was a student in her hometown public school, she had no idea there was a community of people that were like her. She felt left out and alone.
When Benitez enrolled at the Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind in seventh grade, she said her “mind expanded with excitement,” and she was first introduced to the deaf community.
“I feel like doors have been opened wide for me and my future looks bright and I know I came to the right school,” Benitez said.
After becoming a student at VSDB, Benitez joined the volleyball and basketball teams, participated in Academic Bowl, was elected homecoming queen and served as the class president this year.
“This school taught me to be who I am,” she said.
As much as Benitez is grateful to have been a student at VSDB, she isn’t one any longer. On Friday morning, Benitez and five classmates crossed the stage in Healy Auditorium on the campus of VSDB, and ceased to be students and became graduates.
“I am so proud of the this graduating class of 2016,” said Principal Keith Van Fossen.
The commencement address was given by Joseph Ashley, the assistant commissioner for grants and special programs at the Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services. Ashley was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa in college. He shared a few words of wisdom with the soon to be graduates and gave them some advice for the future.
“Celebrate this moment,” Ashley said. “It’s both an end and a beginning. Take stock of the skills you have.”
Ashley told the students to get involved in their communities, to seek out learning opportunities and to take advantage of what’s out there, because it’s the only way to discover the things you love and are passionate about.
“People with abilities, we have to adjust,” Ashley said. “But if it’s something you really want to do, you can always find a way to do it.”